Facebook 'Likes' not protected as free speech, judge rules

In the social media era, most people likely consider their Facebook "Likes" to be the ultimate in free expression — a statement that says something fundamental about their values and tastes. But employers may not see it that way, and now  ZDNet reports that a judge has ruled that employees who are fired for liking something on Facebook have no legal remedy under the First Amendment.

U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson issued the ruling in a case brought by six civilian employees of the Hampton, Va., sheriff's department. One of the plaintiffs, Daniel Ray Carter, was fired after he "liked" his boss' opponent on Facebook in a 2009 sheriff's election. He filed suit, claiming the firing was retaliation that violated his First Amendment right to freedom of expression.

The question at issue in the plaintiff's retaliation case was whether the act of clicking the "Like" button on Facebook represents enough of a substantive statement to merit free speech protection under the First Amendment. Jackson ruled that it does not.

"It is the court's conclusion that merely 'liking' a Facebook page is insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection," Jackson wrote in his ruling.

The larger issue, as Connor Simpson of the Atlantic Wire points out, could be whether a Facebook "Like" constitutes an endorsement. Many Facebook pages, Simpson points out, require a "Like" to access or post messages to Walls or Timelines. And, Simpson adds, "liking" a page is the only way to subscribe to it and ensure its updates appear in your News Feed.

Carter's case is not the only recent example of Facebook activity getting people in trouble at work. Mashable reports that Marine Corps Sgt. Gary Stein was given an "other-than-honorable" discharge last month after posting on the Armed Forces Tea Party's Facebook page that he would refuse to follow orders given by President Barack Obama.

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